Westlake City Council members learned on Monday, Dec. 9 that the community’s first municipal election may be postponed due to clerical errors and charter issues.
Westlake’s sitting council, aside from one member who was appointed later to fill a vacancy, was appointed by developer Minto as part of the community’s incorporation. The “transitional council” will serve until elections are held, with two seats scheduled for election in March 2020 and three seats scheduled for election in March 2022.
The charter calls for the election to be held the second Tuesday of March in an election year, which would be March 10, but Florida’s presidential primary election has been set for March 17. Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link told county municipalities earlier this year that March 10 elections will not be feasible, asking that they be moved to March 17.
A second reference in the Westlake charter notes only March 2020 for elections, but there are other issues.
At the council meeting, City Attorney Pam Booker said she had reached out to Link’s office in search for alternatives for the Westlake election.
“At this point, the city is not able to make any of those dates to have those elections in March,” Booker said. “The elections are handled by the supervisor of elections. She has to make sure she can coordinate it, get out the mailed ballots and get them to the printer in time. She is a new supervisor of elections, and they have new equipment… One of the options discussed over the last couple of weeks was having our elections on March 31, the date set for runoff elections, as an option. That might be a possibility, but she’s not 100 percent certain.”
Booker added that the qualifying period for the election may need to be changed from noon on Tuesday, Jan. 28 through Tuesday, Feb. 11 to a yet-to-be determined date. Booker explained that those dates would conflict with publication notices, which would be over the Christmas holidays.
Other municipalities were instructed by Link to pull back their qualifying periods for March elections to December. Loxahatchee Groves and Royal Palm Beach closed qualifying on Dec. 10, while Wellington will close qualifying on Dec. 17.
Qualifying dates can be amended by council ordinance.
“Even though it is not consistent with our charter, Florida Statutes does allow that, but we still do not meet the time frame to get them to the printer, so another option is to have the elections in the month of June when the City of Belle Glade is having its elections. Then we would be able to share some of the costs of the supervisor’s functions, versus having it be a total special election where we would be totally responsible for all the costs associated with the machines, the training, the printing of the ballots and things of that nature,” Booker said. “That’s where we stand now unless something changes within the next couple of days. If [Link] is able to push that printing date back for the mail-out ballots, that would require two more meetings this month by the council to adopt that ordinance changing the dates for the election, as well as our qualification period.”
Mayor Roger Manning agreed that qualifying would be difficult over the holidays.
Vice Mayor Katrina Long-Robinson was not happy with the situation. “How did this happen?” she asked.
Booker explained that municipal elections are generally handled by the city clerk.
“We did have someone who is supposed to be responsible for some of these clerk functions,” Booker said. “She is no longer with the city, and the new city clerk, Zoie Burgess, recently started. It was too late at that point to get everything in place for elections.”
Booker added that having a separate special election would cost about $20,000.
The council set Dec. 16 and Dec. 30 to have special meetings to approve an ordinance changing the election date and qualifying period. Long-Robinson also asked that notifications be posted on the city’s web site as soon as possible.
Booker also pointed out in a memo to the council that candidates must have maintained residency for one year before qualifying. Councilman Phillip Everett, whose seat will be open, has lived in Westlake for a year. Councilman John Stanavitch, whose seat is also open, has not. Everett told the Town-Crier on Monday that he has not decided if he will run for election.
Stanavitch made a motion to approve an agreement with the Supervisor of Elections Office to provide processing equipment and election services, although the date has not yet been set, which carried 5-0.